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What is design?

Profesor Suhana will explain about the definition of engineering design.
Engineering design involves a marriage of technology and the arts. It requires tools such as simulation software and engineering drawings
© Universiti Malaya

First, lets take a step back and ask ourselves, what is Design?

It is both a science and an art. Design combines the study of all areas of technology, engineering, science, art, language, business, society and sustainability. In this course, we will be specifically talking about design in engineering.

Computer scientist and Nobel Prize laureate Herbert A. Simon was the first to mention design as a science or way of thinking in his 1969 book, Sciences of the Artificial. He says, “Design is the distinguishing activity of engineering”. It is an open-ended process by which there is no unique solution.

Specifically, engineering design is a process that establishes and defines solutions to engineering problems not solved before. Also, it can be new solutions to engineering problems which have previously been solved in a different way.

Technological design is a very broad field, and may encompass the following aspects:


Core to the design process, is the concept that Design is chasing an idea. This is what we will be focusing on this course. A designer, through analysis, investigation and research, begins to synthesis an idea for a possible solution to the challenge at hand.

The process is then to chase that idea down to see if it works. A design engineer’s job is to test it, to modify it, to branch out in a different direction. If the design does not work, the engineer may reject it altogether and “go back to the drawing board”.

In order to be able to do so, the design engineer needs to be someone who is able to think holistically. He or she is able to look at a problem from different angles. This requires broad knowledge, experience and training.

The challenges in coming up with a good design, is the ability of the designer to consider many different aspects of a situation or problem, such as:


In short, the designer needs to be able to have a birds eye view of the scenario. He or she must have the technical expertise, in both breadth and depth, to identify the problem. Subsequently, the design engineer must provide a solution. It is an intensely creative process, which begins with an IDEA and ends with the production of a physical (or virtual) product.

It is interesting to note the words that I have added – “or virtual”. In conventional product design, the product would be physical. However, if you are a communications engineer, or a software engineer, your product would be a virtual one.

This distinction becomes even more significant now that we are in a pandemic. Currently, so many physical systems or services need to be quickly translated into its virtual equivalent. The most obvious are e-learning, e-banking and e-shopping platforms, which has exponentially grown in the past year.

This is a prime example in which rapid systems design has had to be innovated within a very short period of time, due to urgent situations.

© Universiti Malaya
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Ideation: The First Step in Engineering Design

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